What Happens When AI Meets Africa’s Demographic Boom?

Africa is projected to have more people at working age than the rest of the world’s population by 2035.

By 2045, artificial intelligence is projected to reach the singularity, where it will be self-improving rapidly rather than being dependent on human inputs.

On their own, these two developments are concerning. For years now, policymakers have braced themselves for what could happen once there’s this critical mass of working age folks in countries like Nigeria and South Africa with no jobs. I’ve heard the term “tinder box” more than I care to.

Artificial intelligence learning on its own is something very hard envision unless you want to leave that to your pick of scariest movie about AI. All of the advances we see in AI currently are still in the realm of supervised learning where humans input enormous amounts of data. Yet, AI is already able to some pretty incredible things. My Google Home is in constant use in my home for music, information, games, story time, and more.

What happens at the intersection of these two shifts? They’re supposed to happen within a decade of each other. Are African policymakers thinking about curriculum that could prepare their populations to be able to work alongside a robot?

For example, Rwanda, Kenya, and South Africa are investing a lot in growing their automotive manufacturing industries. The price of industrial robots is dropping rapidly and could make the development of those industries a lot more realistic. Just this year, Volkswagen and Nissan have launched assembly plants in Rwanda and Kenya respectively. Are the workers at these plants ready for an increased use of robots?

If you’ve seen examples of analysts and policymakers thinking through this issue, I’d appreciate you sending that info my way!

African Banks: 1920 vs. 2018

I’m working through “Negro With a Hat: The Rise and Fall of Marcus Garvey,” and it’s fascinating to learn more about life in Jamaica during colonial times and Garvey’s experience trekking to Europe. While living in London, Garvey got a job at The African Times and Orient Reviewa paper published by Dusé Mohamed Ali. The paper carved out a reputation as unabashedly African nationalistic.

Ali was ambitious and launched a number of other initiatives outside of the paper. One of those in 1920 was an attempt to set up an independent bank in Ghana that would compete against European banks in West Africa. The venture wasn’t successful and got me thinking about Nigeria’s United Bank for Africa (UBA). This year, they got approval from Britain’s Prudential Regulation Authority to operate as a wholesale bank in Britain. The bank plans to use this approval facilitate trade finance deals in African markets. In 2018, UBA is the only African bank with this approval. That shouldn’t be the case and is a reminder of how much work there is still to do.

Guest Post: Rethinking Old Practices of Learning

This guest post is by my friend Ifunanya Nwokedi. I’m excited about her starting to put her point of view out in the public square.

While Africa needs a well-educated and experienced graduate to drive change and development, these are not the experiences students receive at universities. In their Quartz article, Seth Traudeu and Keno Omu detail the disconnect between market place skills needed to drive an economy and the experiences African students receive at institutions of higher education. Many African graduates find themselves too inexperienced for the global workplace. They cannot compete internationally, and as a result neither can African economies.

To address this need, corporate employers, African universities and students should build partnerships aimed at developing an experienced African graduate for the 21st century. Traudeau and Omu illustrate that human capital, infrastructure constraints and a disconnect between skills and the market place are major reasons why many African graduates are too inexperienced for the global workplace.

Moreover, many higher education institutions have developed poor learning cultures and lack the infrastructure for knowledge transfer that would prepare African graduates to compete internationally. For example, many students learn through handouts (an abridged version of actual coursework), because a large number of university faculty are on strike – more than 50% of the academic year.

This precise disconnect between the state, higher education institutions and employers is the problem. When university professors are not paid regularly and have to go on strikes to receive attention from state actors, it becomes impossible for these universities to produce graduates capable of dealing with the challenges of the 21st century.

Furthermore, many African ministries of education rarely review academic curricula, if at all, to ensure that they are aligned with skills needed in the market place. Likewise, the decline in state support has led to problems of access, quality and an aging faculty in African universities (Akilagpa Sawyerr, 2004).

In 1995, the World Bank noted that a severe decrease in university funding across many African states has resulted in weak institutional management capacity. For example, the absence of accountability mechanisms has led to the mismanagement of resources and much more. According to an Economist article, administrative leaders at many African universities resort to over-recruitment in order to manage resource constraints. As a result, opening new universities to meet growing demand has worsened the problem.

Institutions of higher learning are supposed to represent communities of scholarship, where ideas are nurtured, refined and critiqued to develop a more accurate conceptualization of the world around us. However, without regular pay, improved infrastructures and increased resources, such an environment ceases to realize its full potential and instead becomes an arena for organized crime, and mismanagement of labor, human capital and resources.

To be clear, it is no longer just a state problem, but one that involves both state and non-state actors such as corporations. Employers can no longer be identified as by-standers, but also as actors that can collaborate with higher education institutions to produce the appropriate type of graduates capable of accelerating African economies and development into the future.

Some of these corporations seem focused on experience rather than highlighting academic degrees during the recruitment process, which undermines the importance of educational achievements. As a result, many African graduates remain at a loss for how to promote themselves and their academic achievement. Nonetheless, some higher education institutions across the continent such as Makerere University have mandatory internship programs while the University of Cape Coast, and the University of Ghana, Legon are among the best in the continent in driving research and innovation.

With evidence of the disconnection between actors involved in reaching effective higher education goals from Sawyer and others, I insist that higher education institutions should assess their goals and develop a more comprehensive plan to better ensure that they provide educational experiences that can translate into work experience for African students.

African universities must take steps to build partnerships with corporate leaders to meet the demand and supply needs of the marketplace by creating opportunities for students to gain skills during their academic careers. For example, students could conduct and present their research projects at conferences as part of graduation requirements, industries could support universities by building libraries and labs that mirror the workplace; and universities could create knowledge transfer activities that engage students and faculty. The African students could also find effective ways to demand their right to quality education, working classrooms and labs that meet international standards and speak out when leaders deprioritize their needs.

 

No. 52 – 3AMReads: So. Tired. Need. Sleep.

Ecobank Research: Barclays brand’s exit from Africa could trigger loyalty separation

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TechCabal’s African Tech Roundup: Africa-Focused Insights From IoT World Forum 2017

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IMF: Tayo Oviosu: Technology Draws More Nigerians Into Banking Fold

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No. 51 – 3AMReads: Mozambique and Ivory Persist and Attract Capital | African Development Bank Makes Case for Investing in Africa

Bloomberg: Traders Snap Up Assets of Nation Where Default Is New Normal

I’m not really sure what to make of this article. I wrote a several weeks ago about how I was nervous about hedge funds investing in countries like Mozambique. While the independent audit of the country’s finances seems to have given investors increased confidence in the country, are we certain Mozambique is rounding the corner in being able to make it’s debt payments? I’d hate to see this turn into a situation where investors just have more assets to play with in order to get their money.

Reuters: Ivory Coast says long dated Eurobond raised $1.25 bln, 625 mln euros

Despite the tensions with its military, Ivory Coast continues to attract capital. Good stuff.

African Development Bank: Adesina – Its time to reboot and boost US-Africa Commerce and Investments

The Corporate Council on Africa is hosting is US-Africa Business Summit this week. Is Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaking at the Summit a signal that we’re a few inches closer to seeing the US start to roll out bits of an Africa policy?

 

No. 49 – 3AMReads: Kenya Finds Trump Connect | Trump’s OPIC Pick… | Nigerian Oil Company Wins Oil Block

Politico: SPG Signs Kenya

Trump-connected Stanton Park Group signed a $1.2M contract to represent the country’s interests in the US. I look forward to seeing what they accomplish.

White House: Seventeen Nominations Sent to the Senate Today

President Trump has nominated Texas real estate tycoon Ray Washburne to be President of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation. After digging into his background I’m curious to find out which emerging markets he has traveled to, if at all.

It is encouraging to know that he is influential in President Trump’s circle, considering that he was part of President Trump’s transition team. The signs have been pointing to OPIC shutting down, but perhaps he can be influential in making a case for the agency to remain operational.

Fortunately, the nominee for Executive Vice President of the Corporation is David Bohigian who has significant experience negotiating trade agreements for the US. While looking into him, I found this interesting Cordell Hull quote he shared during a 2005 testimony he gave while being vetted for a position at the Department of Commerce:

I have never faltered, and I will never falter, in my belief that enduring peace and the welfare of nations are indissolubly connected with friendships, fairness, equality and the maximum practicable degree of freedom in international trade.

Todd Moss and Jared Kalow at the Center for Global Development provide some helpful recommendations to the two nominees here.

Forbes: Nigerian Energy Group Taleveras And ExxonMobil Win Oil Blocks In Equatorial Guinea

This article caught my eye because I couldn’t recall hearing of many African-owned oil company winning oil blocks, so I checked with a friend who confirmed that only a few firms have won oil blocks like this. I look forward to seeing more of this. It would definitely help to have African-owned oil companies exploring these blocks to have more data to draw from for the R&D labs they will be investing. (Remember my saying I’m going to keep bringing up these R&D labs?)

No. 48 – 3AMReads: $1B Cobalt project | South Africa’s Radical Economic Transformation | What is US-Africa Policy?

Bloomberg: Owner of $1 Billion Cobalt Project Says Rally Is Far From Over

Eurasian Resources Group has a pretty massive cobalt mining project in the works in the Democratic Republic of Congo. The company stands to realize a nice return on investment at the rate cobalt prices are skyrocketing. They jumped 71% last year and are expected to increase by 60% this year. Rising demand for electric vehicles and limited cobalt supply is driving these prices.

What concerns me about this project is the supply chain.  Cobalt mining has come under scrutiny due to the health hazards associated with extracting the mineral. Even more concerning is the reality that evidence has been found of children participating in cobalt mining in DRC. Take a look through ERG’s website, and you’ll see it is fairly light on sustainable development and occupational safety.

Chinese cobalt miners have caught the spotlight in terms of not managing their cobalt sourcing well. ERG should get the same level of attention to be sure it keeps things on the up and up.

Fin24: Recession shock knocks volatile rand

Radical economic transformation. Debate over what this means for South Africa reached fever pitch after President Zuma sacked Pravin Gordhan, probably the most respected high-ranking government official at the time. The midnight firing led to two credit agencies giving South Africa junk bond status. Yesterday, the country went into recession. Radical economic transformation. SMH.

Video: Senator Chris Coons Speaks at Council on Foreign Relations

Senator Chris Coons spoke at the Council on Foreign Relations yesterday, discussing US policy in Africa. Best line from the conversation, “On some level, I don’t want it to be a higher priority for the Trump administration.” Agreed.

https://www.facebook.com/plugins/video.php?href=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.facebook.com%2Fsenatorchriscoons%2Fvideos%2F1616437811702819%2F&show_text=0&width=560